Faith Free Will Baptist youth pastor never imagined himself in position
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 13, 2014 1:46 PM
When Christian Powell came to Faith Free Will Baptist Church as youth pastor fresh out of college, he never imagined being there 20 years later, much less stepping into the chief leadership role.
The Raleigh native graduated from Southeastern FWB College near Wendell in 1993. In the years since, he has also been an assistant pastor, taught at the church's school, Faith Christian Academy, and served as interim school administrator over the past year.
He recently took over the reins as senior pastor, when Pastor Dann Patrick retired after a 33-year career at the church.
As a young man, Powell had entertained thoughts that the Lord wanted him to be a pastor.
Upon arrival at the large church on U.S. 70, he soon realized he still had much to learn.
"But when I got here, I fell in love with the people, fell in love with Goldsboro," he said. "Obviously, looking back God had a plan for me to stay here."
He learned much under the tutelage of his predecessor, whom he credits with grooming him for the role well in advance.
"After a number of years of preaching, Pastor Patrick would say things like, 'I have already instructed the deacons to consider you,'" he said. "While that was flattering to me, I never thought it would actually develop.
"There were a couple or three times when I actually tried to leave. I thought God was moving me out to go pastor. (But then) God seemed to shut the door on my leaving."
At that point, he said he decided to just "dig in and do my best" at the local church.
"Two years ago, the pastor approached me and said that he was two years out from retirement and that he in his mind wanted it to be a smooth transition for whoever came in," he said. "He felt in his heart that I was the one who should replace him, but yet it was the church's decision. And I agreed.
"He asked if I was still willing. I said, 'Yes, sir, if that's what God wants and the church wants.'"
The matter was later put to a vote and the congregation backed the familiar candidate. That was in March 2013.
The past year and a half served as a transition from Patrick to Powell. And while it was in some respects a seamless situation, it was not without a few fears.
"It's been a frightening process in the sense of knowing in the back of my mind that this is God's plan, but what if it doesn't work out? What if I'm not really who they need? What if we really don't mesh, even though we have meshed for 20-plus years?" he admitted. "I'm a novice in the technical sense. As far as the role, this is a new role as the senior pastor."
Fortunately, the thing that drew him to the congregation -- engaging with the people -- is one of his favorite things about the job.
"I don't want to sound ultra-spiritual but what I love most is watching God change people's lives and how they respond to the truth that's being taught," he said. "That's the most exciting part.
"I think my natural giftedness is in the role of preaching, teaching and engaging people."
Powell's family is also a big part of his ministry. He and wife, Erin, grew up in the same church and she now works in the Faith women's ministry and plays several instruments, including the organ, and sings in the orchestra. She also teaches voice and is a band instructor at Faith Christian. The couple have two sons, 12-year-old Andrew and five-year-old Elisha.
As he graduates into his new leadership position, Powell is appreciative of the staff already in place, which includes eight pastors covering other ministry areas, among them music, youth and missions.
He already has several projects he's working on, including updating the church's website, taking a fresh approach to small groups and making plans for different outreach efforts in the community.
"There's a pressure I feel from certain circles to preserve what we have and I understand that but at the same time, I want to preserve the things that need to be preserved but not need to be so concerned about the past but focus on the potential for the future. Being a younger pastor, maybe being different in some of my personality traits, different from Pastor Patrick, that's not necessarily a bad thing," the 42-year-old said.
"We're not necessarily headed in a different direction as far as church is concerned but I would love to bring a fresh approach."
One of his goals is take the ministry out into the surrounding community.
"Making our presence known, letting people know that Faith Church, while we're very conservative, we want to be known for our compassion and our love and the gospel, not just our traditional stand," he said. "And we do have a traditional stand. We don't apologize for it, but that can't be all that we're known for. We want to have a Biblical stand with a compassionate spirit."
Like any good driver, Powell is not adverse to checking the rearview mirror from time to time. But he also knows the importance of keeping a keen eye on the road ahead.
"I'm thankful for my predecessor," he said. "He wasn't just my boss. He was truly my pastor, my friend and a mentor for me.
"And I'm thankful for how he led the church. I can't fill his shoes. I have to lead in the way God wants me to lead these dear people. I'm not trying to replace him. I'm trying to be who God wants me to be in this role."